The Hero and the Crown

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I have come across Robin McKinley’s name on several occasions on lists of books I would or should like – several of her fairy tale retellings have been on my TBR list for years. Open Road Integrated Media has released several of her older books in e-book format, and I had the chance to read a copy of The Hero and the Crown from NetGalley. I felt a special connection to this book because it won a Newbery Medal the year I was born. It’s a prequel to her novel The Blue Sword.

In the kingdom of Damar, Aerin is a princess, but she is not exactly a beloved one. It’s whispered that Aerin’s mother, who may or may not have been a witch, killed herself in despair when she gave birth to a daughter rather than a son. In Damar, all royalty are supposed to have a Gift (kelar) they can display which marks them as special. While everyone else in her family can use their Gift without struggle, Aerin has never developed hers. Aerin spends her childhood trying to be invisible, preferring the company of her father’s retired warhorse Talat to her peers or subjects. She becomes fixated on learning sword fighting skills and perfecting a recipe for an ointment that will keep her safe from dragon fire so that she can slay dragons. The trouble is, in Damar, dragons are more like vermin than ferocious beasts from legend, and killing them is far from a noble pastime. Aerin’s talents for dragon-killing are scorned rather than appreciated.

Suspicion grows in Damar that the hero’s crown, lost for years, has fallen into the hands of the unruly Northerners. Aerin’s father, her cousins, and their army ride out to negotiate with the Northerners, and word comes to them too late that Maur, one of the last great dragons left in the world, is attacking a nearby village. Aerin is the only one on hand to help the villagers fight Maur, and though she kills the dragon, she pays a heavy price. Maur’s death sets off a chain of events that will cause Aerin to leave home seeking healing, the truth about her family and her destiny, and the hero’s crown.

Aerin is the archetypal hero who doesn’t understand her own worth. She’s used to being the butt of everyone’s jokes and having her efforts be under-appreciated. People in Damar think she’s crazy, and they speculate about whether or not she’s even legitimate – but she doesn’t hesitate to do them a service (like killing their dragons) when she can. She doesn’t do it out of any sense of obligation to the people – it’s just something that can be done and something that she’s capable of doing. Aerin can be stubborn to the point where you want to shake her, but you have to admire a girl with her level of perseverance. It’s one of the things that saves her life in the end.

The first half of the story reminded me of a traditional fairy tale, as we learn about Aerin’s childhood and her determination to do something useful. The second half flew by, and I will confess to being a bit lost at times. I think if I had read The Blue Sword, I would understand a bit more about the world McKinley has created for these books and some of her mythology. It was interesting enough that I do plan to read more of this series eventually, and I do really enjoy her writing style. I think my next book of hers will either be Beauty or Spindle’s End.

Pink VI Giveaway

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Good morning and happy Monday!

I hope you’ve been enjoying the first week of rereading Pink VI. It’s that time again – time to give away a signed copy of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine to a commenter on today’s post.

You have until midnight EST on February 12 to enter, and you can enter up to three times. Here’s how:

  1. Leave a comment below.
  2. Follow the blog! If you are already a follower, just mention that in your comment. There are links in the top right corner of this page to become a follower.
  3. Post a link to this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can just let me know in your comment that you’ve done this. I trust you.

On Friday, I will use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner.

On the subject of giveaways, I’m sure the majority of you are already aware of this, but February is Pink Anniversary month over on Lauren’s website. She is celebrating a DECADE of Pink, since The Secret History of the Pink Carnation was published in February of 2005. Lauren has already hosted one giveaway in honor of Pink Anniversary, and more are on the way. Make sure you pop over to share your love of all things Pink.

Pink Anniversary

Betty will be back on Wednesday with more thoughts on Pink VI.

Pink VI Week 1 in Review

This post was written by Betty.

jasmine

Our modern story begins in January, 2004, with the arrival of Eloise and Colin at Selwick Hall in Sussex. Not only is Eloise delighted to have further access to the Selwick archives, but she finds her relationship has ratcheted up a notch when Colin says, “I had hoped you might stay, um, down the hall, with me…” Of course Eloise accepts in Eloise style and is happy to officially be Colin’s girlfriend; happier still since he introduces her as such when they arrive at the pub for dinner and are once again thrown together with snobby and snotty neighbor Joan Plowden-Plugge and her sister Sally. As Joan still harbors romantic ambitions regarding Colin, she is none too happy. Eloise overhears a conversation between Joan and Sally in the ladies room regarding Colin’s occupation and Eloise’s reaction when she finds out. It doesn’t help when the word “spies” is mentioned amid toilet flushes, and Eloise realizes she has never asked Colin what he does for a living – ta dah!

Meanwhile, back in 1803, it is Christmas Eve at Girdings Hall. Charlotte Lansdowne’s delightful grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, is hosting a house party to which she has invited a group of young men referred to as the “Eligibles” in hopes of finally marrying off Charlotte. Just as Charlotte and her friend Penelope Deveraux are exiting the home in search of greenery with the other young folks, who should ride up on his horse but long lost cousin Robert, the current Duke of Dovedale – knight in shining armor reference here. He and Charlotte haven’t seen each other for 12 years, but immediately feel an attachment from the past.

Having met Charlotte in previous books, we are now given some additional background into her life. She arrived at her grandmother’s at age 9, mourning her mother (a vicar’s daughter who had not been accepted by the Duchess), only to have her father fall ill and die. Being largely ignored, she found solace living in a world of books and imagination. Her loneliness grew after Robert’s departure since he was the only one who had been kind to her. In the world of the ton, she became friends with Henrietta Selwick, now Dorrington, and Penelope Deveraux.

Robert left Girdings Hall suddenly at age 15 before Charlotte’s father died. Through his thoughts we learn he was disgusted by his father’s lifestyle (gambling, drinking, brawling) as well as his premature, vulturistic plans to inherit the dukedom. Robert eventually joined a Royal Regiment and ended up in India. He has only returned to seek justice for a commanding officer shot in the back by some of his own men during a battle. He is searching for Arthur Wrothan who he believes was selling secrets to the enemy and engineered the assassination. One of Wrothan’s minions from India is Lord Frederick Staines who accompanied Wrothan back to England and is presently attending the Christmas house party. Robert thinks there is a connection to the Hellfire Club, run by Sir Francis Medmenham and is seeking to infiltrate this group. Cozying up to Medmenham, Robert finds him a despicable person who also expresses an interest in Charlotte. Not liking the kind of man he must pretend to be in order to gain acceptance into the Hellfire Club, Robert nonetheless, forges ahead to protect Charlotte as well as find those responsible for the murder of his friend. He and Charlotte share some reminiscences and an almost kiss as he cautions her to stay away from Medmenham. Later, when the men go out to perform a traditional ceremony around the Epiphany Tree, Robert finds out more information about the Hellfire Club from Lord Henry Innes. It seems in addition to Medmenham, Wrothan is a leader, and Robert is about to receive an invitation to the club.

Previous Pink acquaintances in addition to Penelope Deveraux and the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, include Henrietta and Miles who arrive later on for the house party. Henrietta quizzes Charlotte about the “Eligibles” and also Robert. Miles is his usual adorable self, but doesn’t want to get involved with female chatter. Turnip Fitzhugh is also a guest and has a charming scene involving the Epiphany Tree, which was elaborated on in great detail in The Mischief of the Mistletoe. We are once again acquainted with the not so lovable likes of Martin Frobisher, Percy Ponsonby, Lord Henry Innes, and Lord Frederick Staines. Sir Francis Medmenham was introduced in Mischief of the Mistletoe and seems to lead this cast of dubious characters associated with the Hellfire Club. Much more to come on that later. However, Robert has discovered that this group of men, seemingly led and controlled by Medmenham, all wear a ruby ring etched with a lotus blossom.

New to the story, in addition to Robert, is his friend Lt. Tommy Fluellen, who has accompanied him from India and is immediately infatuated with Penelope Deveraux – woe be to Tommy!

As always, I am again impressed with the delightful literary references Lauren sprinkles throughout her books. On p.24 there is a scene in which the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale is about to leave the room after greeting Robert and meeting Tommy. She calls Tommy to attention and wants help into her litter. After Tommy hesitantly says, “It would be my honor?” the Duchess replies, “Correct answer. You may keep your head. For now.” I couldn’t help thinking of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Later on when Robert and Charlotte are talking about memories from the past, he mentions Charlotte hunting unicorns with jam tarts. This also made me think of the Queen’s stolen tarts in Alice.

In our modern story, I thought it was interesting when Colin explained how Henrietta’s papers came to be in his family archives. The Dorrington line died out, and one of Henrietta’s great granddaughters married back into the Selwick side – p.59. What was your reaction to that? I’m also remembering a connection in Lauren’s That Summer.

Were there any references or passages that you particularly enjoyed?

How do you feel about Charlotte’s treatment by the Dowager Duchess and what effect, if any, has it had on Charlotte’s personality? And who would pick this group of “eligibles” for their granddaughter? In Penelope’s words on p.49, “They have no charm, no conversation, and most of them have no chins.” In addition, I believe it was stated that they were all in want of a dowry. Poor Charlotte.

So much happened in these chapters that could lend itself to discussion. There were a lot of revelations about the beginnings of the Hellfire Club in this first section. Robert hints at his father being involved in such a club on p.35, where we get more detail about how he felt about his father and further insight into why he would leave home at age fifteen. That coupled with Robert’s thoughts on p.5 where he wondered whether their quick arrival at Girdings when Charlotte’s father was ill and the ensuing arguments had hastened her father’s death, show his conflicting feelings. Even so, I am amazed that a fifteen year old would run off to establish himself in the world, but that shows us so much about the era. What are your impressions of Robert and Charlotte? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Lady and the Unicorn

Today’s post was written by Betty.

Unicorn1

The picture above is one of a series of six tapestries entitled “The Lady and the Unicorn,” which were woven of silk and wool in Flanders toward the end of the 15th century. Embroidered on the top of the tent in this tapestry are the French words “A Mon Seul Desir,” which has become the title of this one. It has been translated in several different ways – “my one/sole desire,” “according to my desire alone,” “by my will alone,” and “love desires only beauty of soul.” Some interpretations see this tapestry representing love or virginity. The other tapestries represent the five senses: touch, sound, smell, sight, taste, and are titled as such. It has also been suggested that this tapestry could represent a sixth sense, that of understanding. The tapestries were rediscovered in 1841 in Broussac Castle where they had been stored without regard to climate change, causing damage. They were later restored nearly to their former glory, and are currently on display at Musee de Cluny, also known as Musee national du Moyen Age in Paris.

Lauren makes reference to the Lady and the Unicorn when Robert is talking to Charlotte about her childhood game of hunting unicorns. On page 46, he says, “You look like a lady in a medieval tapestry. All you need is the unicorn at your feet.”

Since I was familiar with these tapestries and had read another book about them, I decided to research them further. They were created in the mille fleur style, meaning thousand flowers, which was a popular motif in the Middle Ages. It refers to a background made of many small flowers and plants. The common denominator to all of the tapestries is that the unicorn is to the lady’s left, and the lion is to her right. Medieval symbolism was used heavily in art at the time, and referring to a chart of symbolism, I found the following information. The unicorn has the trait of a single horn and its behavior is interpreted as savage or loyal. It symbolized Christ, purity, and being invincible. The lion’s trait is “the king of beasts” with its behavior being strong. It symbolizes courage, strength, and faithfulness. Considering this, of course my mind wandered to our main characters, Charlotte and Robert. I hadn’t thought much about a character trait connection to these tapestries when I first read this book, but it is on my mind now. Do you feel any of these traits represent them? It is always exciting to me when art or other literary references are brought into a book. This also reminds of Lauren’s That Summer, with its heavy art influence. Of course I don’t know what Lauren intended in this book, but it is certainly interesting to think about. Here are all six tapestries as discussed on Tracy Chevalier’s website. She is the author of The Lady and the Unicorn, which I read in 2007.

Unicorn2

You can easily see the positioning of the unicorn and lion as described earlier. In our story, Robert’s reference to Charlotte having a unicorn at her feet makes me think of the ‘sight’ tapestry. Do you think Robert represents the unicorn? Is he to be tamed by Charlotte? Charlotte definitely fits the role of virgin from the descriptions given of her in this and previous books.

On page 47, at the end of their meeting together, Charlotte tells Robert how glad she is to have him back. Robert agrees, but then begins to think about how he is intending to become involved with unscrupulous people. His thoughts about not being deserving of Charlotte’s admiration made me think of this scene as a contrast in light and dark. Charlotte represents goodness and light, whereas the members of the Hellfire Club represent darkness and evil. In Robert’s own words, “the sour smell of port, and the hideous dark holes being burned in his soul,” come from the Hellfire Club. He has also felt guilty about leaving Charlotte so long ago. What are your thoughts regarding the tapestries and their part in the book?

If you are interested in further reading based on “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, I would recommend Tracy Chevalier’s book of the same title. Tracy is also the author of Girl With the Pearl Earring, a book based on the art of Vermeer.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

I’m pleased to introduce you today to Betty, who will be our moderator throughout February posting about The Temptation of the Night Jasmine.  Welcome, Betty!  I will bow out and let you get straight to it.

night jasmine

Hello Pink enthusiasts! My name is Betty, and I am excited that it’s time to begin Lauren’s 6th Pink Carnation book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, published in 2009. Since this was the year I discovered Lauren and her “Pink” series, I was so happy to have several books to read one right after the other before waiting each year for the latest in the series to be published. Now, as we anxiously await the release of Pink XII, and last of the series, I have enjoyed participating in the reread of all of the books. As someone who almost never rereads a book, I have found I needed this refresher, and have discovered so many things that slipped by in my first reading. Details, details make a book so enjoyable, and I want to thank Ashley for hosting this reread on The Bubble Bath Reader, and giving me the chance to enjoy these books all over again! Here is a quick recap taken from Lauren’s website:

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

Who: Charlotte Lansdowne and Robert, Duke of Dovedale

Where: England

When: Winter 1803-04

What: Innocent and bookish Charlotte finds herself swept up in a web of intrigue stretching from the Hellfire Club to the court of George III.

Historical cameos: George III and Queen Charlotte

Of course Colin and Eloise return as she arrives for her second trip to Selwick Hall and finds something in store for her that she didn’t expect.

I also found it interesting that Lauren says, “Charlotte is the heroine based most closely on me. Or, at least, on me as I remembered myself being as an eighteen year old freshman at college, naïve, optimistic, and inclined to use books, particularly Fanny Burney’s Evelina, as a guide to the intricacies of human nature.”

Of course this started me wondering if anyone else has a character/heroine that they most closely identify with. I would have to say that Charlotte is also that person for me, because at that age I was also shy, naïve, and bookish. Many life experiences have changed that, and I have become much more outgoing and willing to take risks – still bookish, though! How about you – who do you identify with in Lauren’s wonderful Pink books?

I look forward to leading everyone through Night Jasmine and plan to recap and discuss the Prologue – Chapter 7 on Friday. Happy reading!